Monday, August 18, 2008

Nehalem 400k Pre-Ride Report

For the Oregon Randonneurs' late summer 400k, the Nehalem 400, we return to Forest Grove as a start location. Note that we're starting at the Forest Grove Inn, though, and not the usual Grand Lodge. I pre-rode the route this past Sunday to make sure that things would pass smoothly for the riders next week.

A 4:10 wake-up call and some hustle got me downtown and on the MAX in time to get me to Hillsboro by 6. That made my start time from Forest Grove 6:10. I went over familiar streets in Forest Grove to Gales Creek Road, and proceeded north. The stretch between Forest Grove and Vernonia hasn't changed much since the Birkie this spring; more leaves on the deciduous trees. There was an unleashed dog between highway 26 and Vernonia.

I arrived in Vernonia at 8:22 and took a quick break, and then went north on OR 47. The road carried me a couple miles past Pittsburgh, where I turned onto Apiary Road. Apiary is great. It starts off with a gentle climb of about 5.5 miles, and it only gets even remotely steep about 3/4 mile from the top. There terrain right next to the road is pleasantly tree-lined, though clearcuts are visible for quite a bit of the way. After the climb is a long straight descent, and another climb of about 3 miles puts you in Apiary. A few rolling hills, and you're at Old Rainier Road, where you make a hard left turn.

There's some work being done on this stretch of Old Rainier Road, so unfortunately the route detours onto Highway 30 for a mile or so. There's a lot of traffic, but it's flat and there's a huge, relatively clean shoulder so I don't imagine it'll be a problem for anyone. We pick up Old Rainier Road again at the flashing yellow light and head towards Alston and Mayger. Another quarter mile and there's a little country convenience store to refuel at if you need to top of your supplies.

From the store, you'll head north to Mayger. The Mayger Downing Community Church comes in about 5.5 miles, and there's an information control there (I arrived at 11:07), so don't miss it. On the way, there are about 4 rollers followed by a twisty fun descent, as well as some great views of the Columbia River. Past Mayger, there're some more creek sheds that you'll have to climb out of, but around Quincy, the undulations dial way back and you have a smooth, pleasant road into Clatskanie. I encountered an unbound dog on this stretch.

In Clatskanie, there's a market, a Safeway, a Subway, and Hump's Restaurant if you want a sit-down meal. Don't dawdle too much though, because the climb out of town is rather strenuous, and while there can be plenty of shade, you might get a little toasty if the sun is directly overhead. It's 12 miles from Clatskanie to Mist. The first 6 are almost all uphill, though the first mile is probably the steepest. There are rollers until mile 8 (along with some nice views of Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams if it's not too hazy), and then there's almost 4 miles of fast and technical descending. Then you're back on OR 202.

It's 5 miles to Birkenfeld and then another 12 to Jewell. Here's where I have some bad news: the Nehalem 400 has the bad luck to be scheduled for the same day as the Hood to Coast relay. So you'll be sharing the road with that event for these 17 miles. It's a pain in the neck, and I'm sorry for that. For my ride, it was hot and muggy around Birkenfeld, but 12 miles later, it was overcast and sprinkling at Jewell. Bring clothes for a wide temperature range. The country between Birkenfeld and Jewell is quite a bit like the country between Mist and Birkenfeld, but more undulating.

At Jewell, the course turns south onto Fishhawk Falls Highway, past the beautiful new school and following the Nehalem River through a notch between two big coastal mountains. It's a quick run to your next turn, onto Highway 26. The road goes under 26, before turning left up a ramp to the south side of the highway. To get on US 26 westbound, you'll have to make a left across both lanes of traffic. Be very careful! You may want to turn your blinkers on for this section.

Highway 26 is pretty bad. You're on it for 12 miles: 4.5 flat, 3.5 up, and 4 down. For the first 6 miles, the shoulder width varies from 3 to 24 inches. Fortunately, there's a passing lane about a mile into the climbing section, and the shoulder gets a little better, giving you some breathing room. The descent is awesome and partially makes up for the earlier bits: fast, non-technical, with plenty of room. At the bottom is a little gas station/convenience store, and the 3rd control. I got here at 3:22. This store is just past the halfway mark, but realize that the second half of the ride is a lot easier than the first half.

Once you're done doing your control stuff, you'll get back on the bike and turn south, onto OR 53, the Necanicum Highway. It's a mile of flat, 2 miles of easy climbing, and then 14 miles of downhill. This bit is fun and fast. It's twisty at the top, but the surface is smooth and the camber is good. Be careful of uphill traffic, however. Also, when the road straightens out, at least look over and get a glimpse of the really cool moss-covered slot canyon that holds Soapstone Creek. About a mile before you get to Nehalem Bay, you'll turn left onto Foley Creek Road, aka Miami River Road. There's a pain-in-the-neck cimb at the beginning, but it's otherwise a fairly placid road. It's 12 miles long, climbing gently for first 6 and descending gently for the second 6. Other than the occasional clearcut, the scenery is positively Tolkienian. Unfortunately, there were a couple of roaming dogs (wargs?) on this stretch.

The Miami River Road spits you out onto 101 just south of Garibaldi. You'll take 101south through Bay City, where there are a couple rollers.

(Thank you! I'll be here all week!)

Tillamook comes quickly after. The Fred Meyer is open until 11, and the Subway a little further down the road is open until 12. This will probably be your last chance to get food, unless you're quick enough to get to Beaver before 9. When I was riding, the day warmed up again when I arrived in Tillamook, after having been cold and grey since Jewell. The wind in the Tillamook Valley is inscrutable, seemingly blowing in random directions. 101 is straight and flat, and the shoulder is fine. The traffic falls off a couple miles south of town, but the surface gets a little rough as you climb up to Hemlock. Once you pass the junction to Sandlake, the surface is excellent, the shoulder fades away, and it's all downhill to Beaver.

In Beaver, there's a gas station that is the location of the 4th control, which I got to at 7:21 PM. Conveniently enough, it's the place where you'll turn off of 101 to get onto the Nestucca River Road. The first 7 miles of the road take you through familiar coast range pasture land to Blaine, where the environment switches to alder forest. Just past Blaine, there is some road work for the next 4 miles, from milepost 7 to milepost 11. BE CAREFUL on this stretch! There's loose gravel and gravel-filled ruts across the road. Sometimes, it's best to go over into the left lane (just keep an eye out for oncoming traffic!) This is NOT the infamous stretch of gravel road on the Nestucca; that comes later and is actually a much nicer surface. There are 5 campgrounds on this stretch of road, each with water and pit toilets.

From 101 to the top is around 34 miles, depending on how you measure. It's a pretty easy grade for the most part; it basically stair-steps all the way up, only getting steep just below the top. You'll know you're about to start your descent when you get to the reservoir. I'm afraid the descent is pretty disappointing. It's too technical to get much speed up, and you spend an awful lot of time climbing. It dumps you right out in Carlton, the penultimate control. From Carlton, you'll simply get on OR 47 and take that all the way back to OR 8, and the Forest Grove Inn. 47 is fast, flat, and there's a good shoulder the whole way. There should be almost no traffic during the time of when riders are passing through. I finished at 12:01 AM, for a ride time of 17:51.

Camp 18
Necanicum Junction (until 9)
Tillamook (Fred Meyer until 11, Subway until 12)
Beaver (until 9)


Blogger Cecil Anne said...

"Unless you're quick enough to get to beaver by 9."

Ha! I'll be lucky if I get to Tillamook by 11:00 . . . guess I'll buy a few sammiches at Subway to see me through to the end :-)

7:37 PM  

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